A conundrum

Lovely readers, here is my plight: the Reading Diary format last year enabled me to write about every book that I’d read, but I often fell behind. Catching up often entailed a huge effort: I haven’t written a Reading Diary since just before Christmas, for instance, and now have a backlog of twelve books to talk about. It was impractical to say “I’ll publish a post weekly without fail”, and what I did manage to produce often felt rushed or under-considered. I like reading detailed literary analysis, and I’d like to produce it; Instagram-style book reviewing, involving a plot summary plus some adjectives (“brilliant”, “searing”, “heartbreaking”), isn’t something I’m interested in writing, though of course it has its place.

What should I do in 2019?

In an ideal world, every day would be three times as long, and I could read 205 books, give each one the critical write-up it deserves, and finish my own novel this year. But this world isn’t ideal, so something will have to give. At the same time, I want to keep writing about what I’ve read, because I like this blogging, reading community, and because it acts as a useful supplement to my day job, which is to sell books to people.

If any of you have any ideas – about the type of posts I could be writing, or about a possible posting schedule – I would be very grateful to hear them.

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15 thoughts on “A conundrum

  1. It’s incredible that you wrote about all the books you read last year, but I guess one obvious way to deal with this is to write only about the books where you feel you have something to say – either keeping the Reading Diary format (which I really like) and writing more about fewer titles, or doing one-off longer reviews of particular books (I also enjoy reading these!)

  2. It’s hard to keep up with everything you read, and I often struggle which is why some of my reviews are more in-depth than others… But I tend to agree with what others are hinting – you could do short posts, almost bullet point, with what you’ve read that is ok but not majorly moving – maybe with a hint of what you thought in a line or two. Then, if a book really rocked your world a longer post? The latter type are what get the better posts out of me I think, so perhaps differentiation would help. Good luck and I hope you keep posting (but have a life too….!)

  3. Echoing Kaggsy. Much as we appreciate them it’s such a pressure to deliver thoughtful analytical reviews of everything you read, work full time, socialise – oh, and I seem to remember you’re writing a novel!

  4. You’d be excused from posting ANYthing about your reading in the year when you’re trying to finish your novel. But if you truly want to keep at it, I’d advise the same kinds of things that others have said. Perhaps choose one book per week (or month) that you think was truly exceptional (or problematic/maddening) and that you want to highlight with a full review. Others that were less memorable but still worth mentioning you could discuss very briefly, even with just a photo of a pile and one line about each book. Anything you would rate 3 stars or below, maybe don’t even bother? And, in general, feel free to change up the formats you use, whatever’s easiest for you. If you want to import bullet point notes and quotes from Goodreads, or comments you’ve made on Twitter, or photos you’ve put on Instagram, do it. I sometimes feel like I’m cheating with my photo-based posts, but the truth is they’re easy to put together and cross-post to social media, and they still generate as much engagement.

    • I like that idea a lot – giving myself permission to shake up formats, use bullet points, ignore books, etc., would free up so much time!

  5. When I was doing 25 Books in 25 Days, I did have to resort to really short pieces – and I did that by doing a super short summary, but devoting most of the post to a quote that particularly stood out for me. V little time for me, and hopefully a useful indicator for others!

  6. Apologies in advance for the over-long rumination from someone you don’t really know and who’s only been following your blog for a little while…. I hope you don’t mind the imposition…

    I think people have blogs for many different reasons – and often they struggle to know what to do with them because they haven’t worked out the real reason why they have them. Different objectives don’t necessarily harmonise with one another. If you’re not sure what to do, it’s probably either because you’re not sure what your objective is, or because you’re not sure how to accomodate two different objectives.

    If you can’t discard all but one objective, and you’re left with two or more contrary impulses, perhaps it may be best to more explicitly split those objectives out and deal with each in turn, rather than trying to address all your objectives all the time?

    I don’t read 200 books a year – if I did, my blogging objectives would be very different from what they are (at the moment, it’s mostly a personal discipline to get me to think about what I read, and to force me to write), and I’d be a totally different person. But if I can imagine for a moment what it must be like to read so much, I can think of how I personally would probably structure my blogging in that case. Of course, I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily how you should do it, since I don’t know your own priorities, but it might have some ideas of interest.

    Personally, I’d probably split my blogging into three major, regular streams (all on the same blog, but differentiated by rubric and style), each meeting a different objective:

    1. “Reading Diary”.
    To meet that journaling, chronicling, completist need, I’d keep a more minimalist diary of what I read. I’d include the titles and the authors, and, for my own memory and the benefit of others, maybe a one-line description or hook. I might consider a simple keycode categorisation, as well – by genre, or indeed by how interesting I found it (not a detailed 1-10 rating that would require serious thought, but maybe a 0-2 rating between “rubbish”, “interesting”, “instant classic” or the like). Or, as Simon suggests, a quote. If you’ve got time, a cover.

    For you, this reading diary would have a chronicling purpose, would help stop you feeling guilty about not talking about a book, and would also act as a quick aide mémoire. For your readers, it would let us have a sense of what you were reading, build interest and anticipation, and maybe (if you include some sort of rating, or a one-line opinion, etc) be a nudge toward what we might read or avoid.

    If you posted your reading diary, say, weekly (so that would be… what, four books on average?), with monthly and yearly compilation posts, that would also ensure constant, if minimal, content to continue to keep readers coming to your site every week. [blogs that update irregularly struggle to maintain active readerbases]. And because it would be only a handful of sentences a week on average, it would be little burden on you – monthly/yearly compilations could just be copy-pasted.

    2. “Books of the Week/Month”
    The reading diary wouldn’t give you much opportunity to share your opinions beyond perhaps a quick “love!” or “avoid!”. If I read as much as you, I’d want to use that investment to guide others with the benefit of my experience – as I think, given your current blogging, you do too. A relatively easy way to do this would be a “book of the month” stream. You could either pick one book a week, or wait to the end of the month and pick four books (or three, or five, whatever) to highlight. These would be the best, or most enjoyed, books from that reading period, and you could flesh them out with a paragraph or two, as you do now. But because you only did it for a fraction of the books, the burden would be much less than it has been – and because it’s only for your favourite books, i.e. the ones you’re most enthusiastic about recommending, it would feel even less of a chore. Or, if you’re that way inclined, you could also include a disappointment-of-the-month…

    3. “Book Club”
    To meet your objective to sink your teeth into a review a bit more, you could then have a a third stream dedicated to long-form reviews. This could be regular (one a month), or, depending how your time-resources and inspiration are distributed, could be irregular. You could pick one of the books you’d read in the preceding period, whichever seemed most fertile to talk about, and do some actual analysis, or at least a more thorough review. Because you’d be cherry-picking the most interesting, you wouldn’t be disheartened, or waste time, wading through writing a formulaic review of something that wasn’t suited to it. And because you’d be writing in hindsight, you’d have the freedom to play with the formula when you wanted – you could, for instance, do a compare-and-contrast review now and then (something I’d love to do myself, but that my glacial reading pace makes impractical). And because these reviews would be at leisure, rather than on the spot, you’d have the option to try things to increase participation, too – like, for instance, write a review, then announce it, say, two weeks before posting it, to build anticipation (and give others a chance to catch up before seeing your thoughts).

    You could then supplement these three streams with irregular posts when something came to mind, or have additional, less updated streams – like, for instance, two or three times a year doing a quick thematic retrospective on your reading diary as a whole, or perhaps some sort of feedback roundtable every now and then for readers to share their thoughts (or even guest posts).

    Of course, the details may have to be tailored to your own priorities. But my general approach, rather than trying to chronicle, guidepost and explore in every post, and getting frustrated because I couldn’t do all at once, would be to split these objectives out into separate posts (which would also allow different readers to pay attention to different things).

    In terms of workload, the minimalist reading diary would take very little effort at all (beyond, you know, the inconceivable effort of doing all that reading in the first place!). So you’d basically be cutting your current reading diary down to a quarter or a fifth its current size to create a pick-of-the-crop “books of the month” highlight reel. From the remaining 75%-80% of the time and labour, you could carve out as much as you felt like for Book Club analyses and freeform sporadic updates, and probably still end up with some additional time left over for other hobbies.

    This solution wouldn’t scratch any one itch as effectively as dedicating your whole blog to it would. But it might be a way to try to scratch several itches at once without becoming overloaded. It would also be more adjustable – if you were overworked at some point, you could simply drop one or two strands for a while to catch up, while continuing with the other, without it feeling like blogging was an all-or-nothing enterprise. Even if you didn’t have time for a couple of book club reviews, your readers could continue to engage with your reading diary while the book club was on holiday.

    Selfishly, this would also help me as a reader! I’ve found your posts very interesting – but also often overwhelming. There are so many books it’s hard for me to keep them straight in my head, or even to dare to read the post. If it were split into, in this example, a minimalist running reading diary, a highlights reel of recommendations, and then occasional deep-dive reviews to read at my leisure, I’d find that easier to digest….

    It also creates an inherent narrative to hook the reader’s interest and drive engagement. Although these streams meet different objectives, they can also form a storyline in their own right. Stage One: “let’s see what Elle’s been reading this week!” Stage Two: “ooh, that was an interesting list, I wonder which books will be her favourites? I’d better check back and see…” Stage Three: “those all sound interesting, maybe I should read them before her deep-dive review comes out. I wonder which one she’ll pick?”. Every month would be, as it were, an informal competition to follow (although of course the deep-dive review needn’t be of the “best” book necessarily).

    Anyway, that’s just what I’d do, if I were you.

    [and yes, my friends have learnt not to ask my advice…]

    • Just to clarify my thinking a little: yes, this is functionally very similar to the review-each-book-as-it-merits approach. It’s basically a more structured way of doing that.

      The main reason I suggest this more structured, ‘streamed’ approach, rather than deciding review type on a book-by-book basis, is that in my experience if you make the decisions one book at a time, there’s a reviewing inflation, in which I always feel obliged to do as much as possible for each review (and then even MORE for the more interesting books). Whereas if you effectively set out the rules for yourself ahead of time – no, only X ‘book of the month’ picks, only Y deep dives – then it’s easier to stick to those rules.

      Of course, it depends on your personality. Personally, I’m furiously disorganised, so sometimes I need to make rules for myself to stop my plans being hijacked by whimsy. Others perhaps are too organised, and could benefit from adopting a looser, more spontaneous method. You’ll have to judge for yourself which approach is better for you personally.

      The multi-streamed approach also has the benefits of delivering regular and predictable content to drive readership – readers seem to like some structure and narrative (hence all those blogs that have different gimmicks for each day). On the other hand, of course, there is some appeal in not knowing what you’re going to get next so, again, I guess it’s a matter of taste.

    • So my response will be much shorter, but: this is a really great idea, and encapsulates what I think the problem has been – trying to do too much, and too many different things, in each post. Thank you. I’m definitely going to give this a try.

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